Australian Kids Are Learning the Warumungu Language With a Radio Cockatoo’s Help

Pinarra Aku team: Rosemary Plummer (left), Pinangkarl (center), and Kathy Burns (right). Photo used with permission.

Pinarra Aku team: Rosemary Plummer (left), Pinangkarl (center), and Kathy Burns (right). Photo used with permission.

Thanks to the help of a songwriting duo and their fictional white cockatoo named Pinangkarl, the children from the Barkly region in Australia's Northern Territory are singing and laughing their way to learning more about the Warumungu language and culture.

The radio program and audio podcast “Pinarra Aku” is the creation of Kathy Burns and Rosemary Plummer, a teacher and traditional owner, who have been working as a team writing songs for educational use since 2011. The white cockatoo serves as a central character in the program, introducing the children to the language and culture through interactive songs and short stories. It is a bird that can be seen flying overhead throughout in the region, and the name “Pinangkarl” means “knowledge and understanding.”

Burns and Plummer saw the immediate need for supplemental language learning opportunities because Aboriginal languages are not mandatory subjects in schools. Focusing on primary school-aged children is also part of the educational strategy, Burns said:

As each year passes and more of the elders pass on, so too does that knowledge. If the next generation does not keep that knowledge strong by continuing culture and language for the next generation it will eventually be gone. If our education system or employment organisations does not allow time for that next generation to learn language and culture, then how can adequate time be made to keep it strong.


By producing these fun children shows with special themed episodes, schools and households have better access to regular culturally-sensitive language lessons. The program is part of a project by Barkly Regional Arts, and Burns said that they “see language as a living language. And that's how we approach language, rather than material that becomes shelved/archived.”

The program also provides a learning guide that can be downloaded so that children can follow along the program. Whenever clapsticks are heard, the children know when to turn the page to continue to the next lesson. Children are able to draw pictures, write the language words, follow along with the lyrics, or read the bedtime stories, written by local community members.

“Pinarra Aku” currently airs weekly on 8ccc radio located in the town of Tennant Creek, and can be live streamed from the station's website. Having the programs available for download on demand is also part of the strategy to reach as many children, parents, and teachers as possible. The team tries to make the files accessible with the size not too large for download, and so that it can also be sent via email if necessary because of the region's lack of widespread broadband internet.

The success of the program has Burns and Plummer thinking about how to make the program grow. “We hope that ‘Pinarra Aku’ inspires more people to become involved with the show, so that other Barkly languages can be taught,”  Burns said.

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